After playing in 18 games with the LA Kings last year, defenseman Kale Clague looks ready to grab a permanent spot on the roster.
Drafted with the 51st overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Kale Clague joined an LA Kings prospect pool not as highly-touted as it is today. Still, the Regina, SK, native came into the organization from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, having scored six goals with 37 assists in his draft year. In addition to being drafted, Clague played in the CHL Top Prospects Game, won a gold medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and also won the Ed Chynoweth Cup with the Wheat Kings in the 2015-16 league year.
Clague has a proven track record of tapping into his offensive potential at every stop, including 29 points in 52 games in his first season with the Ontario Reign. In the abbreviated 2021 schedule, Clague received an extended look due to injuries along the Kings blueline, playing in 18 games and collecting six assists along the way.
“Kale Clague’s calling card his whole career has been his legs, his vision, his ability to pass, all attributes you often see on powerplays,” head coach Todd McLellan said at the start of the 2021 season. “We consider him an offensive defenseman before a defensive one, but his defensive game is getting better. It’s his time – it’s his time to step up and say, ‘Hey, I belong here full-time.’ He’s gotta grab it and run with it. He’s going to get the opportunity, so he may as well produce and be effective.”
Clague began the year on the NHL roster, playing primarily on the team’s bottom-four defenders. On January 24th, Clague recorded his first NHL point, a secondary assist on an Adrian Kempe shot on goal deflected by Anze Kopitar into the back of the net. In that contest, Clague also logged a season-high 18:05 TOI, to that point.
He began to see increased minutes on ice, logging 20+ minutes four times in February. However, from January 28 to February 11, Clague logged a combined -4, heavily ballooned by a -3 in the February 2nd contest against Anaheim. At the time, more minutes was obviously not the answer for Clague, who was optioned to Ontario to continue to work on his defensive responsibilities.
In Ontario, Clague, despite accumulating a goal and six points in 18 games, struggled defensively, accumulating a -10 over that span. Granted, not all of the blame fell squarely on his shoulders as the Ontario Reign led the league with 149 goals allowed, with other defensemen like Daniel Brickley (-14), Cole Hults (-3), and Mark Alt (-2) struggling to contain the opposition.
“I mean, I think it’s been a little different,” Clague said, following his OT winner in late March. “I’ve always been working on my defensive game. That’s kind of my main focus when I’m down here, but Wrobo’s [John Wroblewski] coaching style is definitely pushing the pace and D getting up and being active in the zone, which I think plays into my game. But yeah, I mean, I’m just trying to find my stride since I’ve been down and, you know, I just want to do as much as I can to help the team. I know I have more to give, and I just want to build off tonight.”
Clague was recalled to the NHL roster when the calendar flipped to April, logging a -2 in his first game back. However, the 22-year-old notched three assists over the next two games, including this beautiful give-and-go with Adrian Kempe.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 8, 2021
“You know just to be solid defensively,” Clague said of the feedback the coaching staff provided to him to stay in the lineup. “I kind of know what I need to do – it needs to start in my D zone, and then everything else will take care of itself. I think I’ve been doing that, and I’m just trying to stay focused and helping this team find some wins.”
After spending approximately two weeks on the Kings’ taxi squad, Clague was sent back down to Ontario to finish out the season, where he finished the year on a high note. Over the final five games, he collected six assists and a combined +2.
Clague’s offensive potential has never been in question. He’s shown the ability to carry the puck up-ice through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone. Clague has also shown that he’s not afraid to go into the ugly areas of the ice to retrieve pucks.
Looking strictly at his offensive numbers from last season in even-strength situations, Clague registered 1.31 points-per-60 minutes.
For context (even-strength situations in 2021):
- Zach Werenski: 1.27 P/60
- Mikhail Sergachev: 1.30 P/60
- Adam Fox: 1.31 P/60
- Kale Clague: 1.31 P/60
- Nicolas Hague: 1.33 P/60
- Alex Pietrangelo: 1.35 P/60
- Dougie Hamilton: 1.38 P/60
Of course, many of those names excel in specific areas, such as the powerplay, where Clague has yet seen exposure at the NHL level. Still, in a season where he’s no longer waiver exempt, Clague should get every opportunity to grab a full-time role and see various situations with the LA Kings. He’s also entering another critical contract year, where he’ll hit restricted free agency again following the 2021-22 season.